Identity

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I keep thinking about the idea that the root cause of nearly all problems today – whether they be ecological, societal, political, or those of human mental and physical health – seems to be a disconnect from reality. It seems to be a narrow minded, egotistical, addiction-like mentality where the needs and wants of the ‘I’ or ‘We’ are superior to the needs and wants of ‘You’ and ‘Them’. Industrial agriculture rests solely on this premise.

‘I’ or ‘We’ – whether defined as humanity, a corporation, a nation-state, a race – are always the ones that know better. The technologies we use and the activities we spend our time on are ideally focused on acquiring more power and enjoyment. Despite the vast amount of effort expended and possible repercussions that could occur, our shifting and amorphous goals are paramount. It may cost us billions of dollars, billions of human and non-human lives, and the very security we wish to maintain, but our goals of growth, production, and control in every facet of our lives are supposedly worth this cost and effort. The myths the author dispels show that industrial agriculture is nothing more than a big waste of time – better yields can come from smaller, more intensive and ecologically sustainable agriculture. Its them trying to bend reality to fit the system rather than the system fit reality.

The idea of what is best seems to be expressing our dominance over the ‘other’. Whether or not we really need the top of the line technology (despite its tendency to consume increasing amounts of time and money) or the most attractive mate (or lack there of) we as a society seem to drift towards whatever we feel will allow us the greater dominance over the existence that lies outside our bodies. We need to make money by focusing on easily mechanized cash crops. We need to be famous by building our company into a multi-billion dollar corporation. We need to push the threshold of ‘progress’ with genetic engineering. All to prove our worth and express our dominance over those who lack the wits, luck, or patience. Its gold, glory, and God (which seems to be either science or money) driving us again, as always.

In reality, this dominance of what lies outside our bodies must have to do more with maintaining dominance over ourselves within. We all have multiple identities – college student, son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, citizen, consumer – the list can go on and on. Each of these identities is held up by the actions we perform and the beliefs we maintain, and to keep these identities we have to perform these actions lest the identities fall apart.

It might be that we identify with the wrong things. We identify with the myths of progress, fame and fortune. We identify with the artificial rather than the natural. We separate ourselves from the land, sea, and sky as well as all the non-humans that dwell within it. This isn’t a game with an end, but a cycle and a web.

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Library of the Living : ‘TECHNO-FIX: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment’ by M. and J. Huesemann

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This is an amazingly thought provoking book with the main premise being that modern technology is over-rated, under-criticized, and often creates unintended and unavoidable consequences that promote the need for a complex series of counter-technologies. It is well researched, packed full of supporting facts and references that convince the reader of the inherent flaws in a ‘technotopian’ worldview.

The adoption of any particular new technology is shown to be wildly unquestioned within the industrialized world, such as the popularization of the car and its effects on society. (Did you know that when miles driven, cost of operation, and time spent in a car are taken into account, the average speed of a car is only around 10 miles per hour? All that money spent to go slower than a bicycle.) The neutrality of technology – such as the discovery of nuclear energy – is disputed, and the existence of ‘democratic’ (ex. pre-industrialized agriculture) and ‘authoritarian’ (ex. television) technologies in the vein of Lewis Mumford is revealed.

Techno-optimism and the myth of progress are analyzed, showing that the economic motive drives most inventions and discoveries. (Scientific discoveries actually peaked in the 1990s! Anything new has been an increase in efficiency of consumer technology!) They highlight the reckless pace of the yearly approval of thousands of chemicals in the United States, and their unknown effects are examined. The authors also question the use of Gross Domestic Product to analyze a country’s well-being, leading to the same perspective endorsed by Ralph Nader:

“You contribute to the GNP when you run your car into someone else’s: your contribution is still greater if you hurt people inside.”

Similar to Noam Chomsky’s critique of mass media in “Manufacturing Consent”, the authoritarian, hegemony-maintaining power of technology is examined, and the idea that the supposed democracy of $1.00 equals one vote is shown to be a means of maintaining the status quo.

In the  most eye-opening (and what many readers would find as the most subversive) chapter, the worth of modern medical technology and how the medical system works is examined with scrutiny. The authors discuss the process where by new medical procedures and drugs – whose efficacy may be worse than previous procedures and medicine – are rushed from trial to widespread usage, being capitalized on merely for their ‘newness’. Modern medicine is also shown to be a ‘counter-technology’ whose task is mainly to allow its patients to continue to mistreat their health – such as the concept of an anti-obesity pill.

All in all, the information within this is a powerful indictment against technological optimism and its effects on society. It is a near guarantee that this book will convince the reader that technology isn’t the solution to all of life’s problems, nor will it be the glowing messiah waiting for us in the emerging future.

For more information on ‘TECHNO-FIX : Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment’ by Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann, visit http://www.technofix.org/.

Self Domestication

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Humans are a species of animal that has accomplished the feat of self-domestication, primarily through the use of technologies that have allowed us to extend our natural range, raise our population levels and densities, and eliminate a vast majority of controls. Fire allowed for countless developments, and with the invention of clothing allowed for the expansion of humanitys range into more temperate climatic zones (such as the one we live in, where a source of heat and clothes are necessary for enduring long dark winters). Agriculture, in the form of plant and animal domestication, allowed for the increase of population levels and densities in cultures that acquired them, displacing cultures that were unable or unwilling to accept such knowledge – a cycle that has been repeated with any power-granting technology. The development of increasingly more powerful weapons as well as increasingly more centralized monopolization of force on the parts of chiefdoms, kingdoms, and states has lead to the decrease in day-to-day violence yet a drastic increase in the amount of death due to wars and other state action. Agriculture brought sedentary life, urbanization, and disease, and cleanliness and modern medical technology have gotten rid of it. The industrial revolution brought with it the growth enhancing force of fossil fuels, further strengthening the centralization and power of fewer and fewer states as well as fewer and fewer people. We live in a vastly different existence than the one we were created/evolved to live in, going from true freedom in the greatest sense of the word to a mere illusion of ‘Freedom’ (for the few and the proud, the ones who can afford it) in ten thousand years.

This self-domestication through technological development has shifted us from natural environments in which we evolved to artificial environments that we are maladapted to – environments where we have to use counter-technologies and modified behaviors to cope with self inflicted changes.  Certain biological and behavioral traits were beneficial (or at the very least benign) to human existence until the development of agriculture and sedentary living, and with the gradual centralization, stratification, and increasing complexity of human society and technology. Obesity is a prime example of this maladaptation. In times of food scarcity (most of human history, primarily in cultures in less agrarian societies – think Africa, pre-Columbian Americas, and the South Pacific) it is the ideal phenotype of an individual to be able to gain weight quickly and lose it slowly. Take a mechanized agricultural system that turns oil into calories (extremely inefficiently, might I add) to make an over abundance of these calories in the forms of sugars and fats (that along with salt, are all very rare in the natural environments we evolved and are very needed for proper bodily functioning) and what do you end up with? Epidemic obesity, particularly in populations that had less agricultural activity over their historical development (from their genetic predisposition towards unreliable food sources).

I think about this stuff constantly. I wish I were free and ‘indigenous’. I wish I could have a relationship with the land, with the water that runs through it and the life that makes it its home. I wish I could have relationships with people that were’t predicated on self-gratification, isolation, and electronic bullshit. I wish I didn’t have to live a life I wasn’t born to live. I am a ‘Stone Age’ human maladaptively living in a technological, environmentally destructive, socially manipulative dystopia, and so are all of you.

What do you think? Do you care?